Saturday, June 13, 2015

A little Colin Hemer to brighten up your day

I'm working on a hymn post, but while doing so I ran across this wonderful quotation from Colin Hemer in his discussion of the "we" passages in Acts:

Further, it would seem Luke's experience [of the voyage] was not that of expert nautical knowledge. The documents confirm the impression of a careful observer recording what happened, describing in layman's terms the measures taken by the crew for the ship's safety, without necessarily understanding the rationale of theif actions, except as he made it his business to ask for information. He appreciated their obsessive fear of the Syrtes, the obvious peril of being driven on a rocky lee-shore. He is not explicit about the peril of the ship breaking up at sea before they could reach the neighbourhood of land at all, but this fear is evident in the undergirding at the earliest possibility at Cauda and probably implicit in the unspecified desperation of Acts 27:20, when their ignorance of their position combined with the realization that the ship was at the point of breaking and foundering at sea. They were probably well enough able to estimate their likely line of drift, to conclude that they had already missed their only likely salvation in a landfall on Sicily. But matters like these are not stressed interpretively by Luke. They are implicit in his account of the scene, and yet also fruitful in the light they shed on the explanation of other details. In a similar way, the cumulative indications of the use of Latin or hybrid nautical terms corroborate the likelihood, at first unexpected in a ship of Greek Alexandria, that the seamen's speech was mainly Latin, and that Luke had a Latin-speaking informant or informants. Yet this in turn is the more easily explicable in a ship of the imperial service which may have numbered many Italians, and some Romans on official business, among its ship's company. The actual soundings, too, of the course of a ship approaching St. Paul's Bay in Malta from the east suit the precise locations where, according to Smith, they must first have become aware of the coastal surf and then of the rocks ahead.
The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, p. 332.

The "Smith" to whom Hemer alludes is James Smith of Jordanhill, whose The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul provide astonishingly detailed corroboration of the accuracy of Acts.

Having already heard of Smith's work, I was to some degree familiar with the evidence in the early part of this paragraph, but the bit about Latin or hybrid (presumably hybrid Latin-Greek) nautical terms was new to me. It was when I reached that point in the paragraph that I decided to copy it out and draw attention to it. Of course, the very terms of the passage imply that Luke and Paul would have had Italian soldiers with them, since Paul was a prisoner and was being taken to Rome.

This sort of evidence needs to be widely disseminated. When one begins to realize the massive evidence supporting the conclusion that the author of Acts was a personal companion of the Apostle Paul, the wheels should start to turn. The same person who wrote Acts is acknowledged even by liberal New Testament scholars to have written Luke. But if it turns out that that person was a careful historian and a companion of the Apostle Paul, what does that tell us about Luke? And what does it tell us about the early chapters of Acts itself, which support and indeed presuppose the resurrection of Jesus and which tell us what the disciples preached within two months of Jesus' crucifixion? At a minimum, it supports the conclusion that they are not a "late source." Indeed, if the creed in I Corinthians 15 can be regarded as an "early source" because it was plausibly taught to the Apostle Paul shortly after his conversion, even though the epistle itself was not written until approximately a couple of decades later, then the speech of Peter reported in Acts 2 could on somewhat similar grounds be regarded as the earliest apostolic teaching about Jesus' resurrection, even though the Book of Acts was not written until about three decades later.

This passage from Hemer, with its piling of detail upon detail, builds up a cumulative case that should give any skeptic pause.

The Book of Acts is an historical rock upon which the ship of skepticism founders.

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